Understanding is Peace

“Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood”  lyrics from Love Potion #9

Being misunderstood creates a complicated series of emotions.  Frustration, confusion, anger, sadness cascade around inside a confused mind.  How can I be more clear?  How can I express myself in a way that can be understood?  Understanding is peace – recognition feels so good, and when a communication is received through a clear filter, hearts open, joy arises.  Layer the filter with insecurities, resentments and bad memories and misunderstandings can build to a crescendo of confusion.

“Why did you say that?  Why didn’t you say it a different way?  Why Why Why?”  Many abusive conversations start this way – it has just occurred to me that those conversations in which we are told (usually angrily) that we should have done something differently are in fact abusive – since none of us can change the past.  What would kindness say?  I’m delving into some other ways to communicate that will be more effective, more kind and way more understanding.

There are many systems who aim is to remedy this kind of situation.  Most of them would recommend staying away from the written word, as inflection calls for assumption, which is the beginning of a slippery slope and a downward slide.  I love the book “The Four Agreements” which proposes a simple set of rules for staying on the positive side of discussions and conversations.

“Don’t Make Assumptions” is a rule that can often clarify misunderstandings.  And oh how assumptions can multiply in a texting barrage.  Oh dear!  What is the remedy?  To ask for clarity, to be open to receiving it instead of clinging to the original assumption, which has come from a clouded place – often dark.  If we are going to make assumptions, it might be best to assume loving motives – albeit this can cause romantic confusion from time to time.  Once again, just simple clarity can alleviate many kerfluffles.  Simplicity rocks!

“Don’t take anything personally” – is another “rule” that is often forgotten.  All of us have a unique perspective, a personal view.  We can sometimes see clearly, but vision is once again clouded by our personalities and histories.  Finding a way through to an open hearted perspective does bring us to the Promised Land of love.  Bringing this teaching close to heart has helped me many times.  “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are” said Anais Nin, in a fit of wisdom.  “you, you, you” says the ego – if only “you” did something differently, I would be able to love you.  Sigh, squirm, deflect, resist….

These two suggestions come up often for me.  They can effectively guide me back to a place of understanding that includes seeing myself and others with compassion and love.  If I still can’t get there I can turn to NVC or Non-violent communication.  That system is based on the idea that criticizing and judging others (if only you had ________, I would be ok) is violence.  It certainly isn’t the path of love or kindness.  I haven’t met a person yet who could turn back the clock and re-do the past.  It is a superpower many of us may wish for from time to time, but what we have is this moment, this opportunity, this love.  NVC says to speak of feelings, instead of our judgements of other.  “When you did X, I felt Y” as opposed to “why didn’t you do that differently, what’s wrong with you, now I’m mad”… And this is easier than it sounds, most of us have underdeveloped vocabularies for feelings due to centuries of emotional repression and interrelations that are based on anger and rage.  NVC includes a handy reference guide to feelings – and a reminder that when we say “I feel like you are ________” is not a feeling, but a judgement.

I recently learned that when we say “I feel” it is most likely to express genuine emotion.  When we say “I feel like” then the contemplation has returned to the mental realms of criticism and closed hearted judgements.   These are fine points, I know as we stumble along on the day to day experience of living life as a learning process heading towards love.  And just as an unfinished painting doesn’t include the finer details, an unfinished comprehension is the same.  Filling in the details, being aware of the finer points, paints a different picture.  Be an artist!  Make your life be your masterpiece of understanding.  It’s more fun that way, I am sure of it!

and then, when all else fails – there is a beautiful system called Ho’o’ponopono which goes something like this:

I’m sorry, I love you, please forgive me, thank you….

repeat, repeat, repeat until you get it right….

Kindness and Judgement

I know this: I can gently pet a kitten, smell a rose and embrace a favorite person with warmth in my heart.  It feels so good, a gentle purr, a sweet fragrance and that special something that communicates love between friends who hug – and yet – on a daily basis is there more to understanding what passes as kindness?

Ordinary kindnesses – epitomized by the young person helping an elder cross the street, or carrying a heavy bag for a tottering shopper, are encouraged in a universal attitude of understanding.  And yet, how can our kindnesses extend into every nook and cranny, every moment, every breath?  What is holding us back from letting the sweetness inside be expressed?

Sometimes a kindness requires a deeper vulnerability- a reaching in to a dusty heartspace, a symbolic inner cave of old toys, cherished but unused.  Imagine pulling them out, dusting them off and putting them to work to create a better day, a better connection and higher love.  What happens when I am a deliberate creator of kindness? A new brightness comes, a sweeter joy erupts together with more laughter.

I am surrounded by animal companions – they delight at a glance and explode into playfulness with the least provocation.  How can I emulate this – embody this – exult into this primal joy more and more often?  Is it adulthood that holds me back or a concept of maturity?  Is laughter often inappropriate?  I aim to always remember to see life as a playground, rather than an industrial assembly line of productivity and accomplishment.

A recent visitor showed extreme disapproval at my lifestyle.  Too many dogs, they said, too many books, bad feng shui.  My joy was temporarily dampened.  Am I getting it wrong about how to live and be myself?  Humpf!  I retrieved my eco-spray bottle of “Grouch-Be-Gone” and applied it liberally to all the surfaces in my sanctuary.  As the mood lightened I remembered that I love to play – to dance and to sing.  In tune or out, music is my delight, my happiness a true love.  Cultivating inner joy and playfulness will definitely bubble over and expand out into the world as kindness, contagious positivity and happiness…oh yes and I really love my dogs, my books and my eccentric furniture.  Having the confidence to make the choices my true heart is calling for, each day in each moment, large or small, has had the extraordinary effect of transforming my life into a living altar to joy and love.

It may not be completely authentic to live life as a musical production – but some of it can be – in fact the more of life that is filled with song (and dance and play) the happier we can be.  Remembering to skip and hop instead of plod is the work of my inner child.  The distilled essence of playfulness is my aim – in each moment as much as possible.

Joy is contagious – !

 

 

 

Love and Devastation

When a love relationship turns to hate, or dislike or disharmony – what is that about?  This is one of the most troubling, painful and challenging situations in life for me.  I imagine it is the same for others.  One of my spiritual mentors said it this way: “In order to love you must be willing to face the devastation”.  A Buddhist friend and I were pondering this turn of events and he relates it to the idea that in the light there is also the dark, in happiness there is sorrow – it is the yin/yang truth of life.  Absolute duality.  In the emotional realm it makes sense that once again the idea of attachment and aversion is where the suffering lies.  Attached to “good” feelings and afraid of “bad” feelings – there is also an unconscious awareness of the pain embedded in the pleasure.  True freedom is acceptance, but that is not a Pollyanna-ish idea.  Acceptance includes everything.  Leave anything out and it is not acceptance.

These spiritual “basics” are bandied about frequently in my world.  The basics don’t change but my relationship to them and understanding of them does continue to deepen and expand.  Contemplation and experience, rinse and repeat.  The cycle becomes a spiral…unwinding towards understanding, and then acceptance.

There was a time when I mourned my lover’s death while he was alive.  Deeply entwined in a long term relationship I feared its ending – and sometimes felt I should leave before he left me or died.  I imagine this is not an uncommon way to react to intimacy and love.  If I push it away then i can save myself from the pain of loss.  Well – that is a losing game!  It is not win-win, it is lose-lose.  Perhaps it is easier to avoid intimacy and love altogether, and so avoid the pain of loss.  Pondering that it is easy to see that life then collapses into pain, loneliness and depression.  There is no the easy way out.

So, what is the way out?  My experience is this – the way out is through.  Through the pain, through the difficult emotions, through the grief and through the loss.  Remembering all those I have loved and lost, the grief remains but the love, wow, the love was so good.  My life was so enriched by the loss, by the love and continues to be enriched with the memories.  Happy, happy memories.  Ironically it seems that happiness is easier to remember than pain.  Is that true for you, too?

Emotions are tricky turf.  Our coping mechanisms and addictions seem to be born from the desire and need to suppress what we are afraid to feel.  The British culture was molded from the idea of “stiff upper lip” which is shorthand for “show no emotion”.  What happens to feelings that want to be felt but aren’t?  Where do they go?  One theory is that they turn into themselves and cause disease (dis-ease, duh). I see the possibility here.  The psychiatric diseases are clearly seen as suppressed emotion and energy.

How, then do we feel emotions?  It takes so much courage to let the painful feelings be felt and pass through.  The more deeply and completely they are felt, the more quickly they pass through, at least that’s true for me.  I consider this process to be the sacred fire, as the allowing of intense emotion seems to burn something – and there is a purification that completes when a feeling is fully felt.

A wise person once said to me “Every feeling fully felt leads to love”.  I have experienced the truth of this – the complete and utter bliss that lies on the other side of grief.  The Tibetan Buddhists belief is that we have the possibility to attain a “rainbow body” – and the process of burning off all that is not true, all this is not love, leads to this illumined state.  Bring it on!

 

Learning from Nature

“Nature is my religion”

To me, this means – that the natural world, the wilderness is a divinely beautiful system, in harmony with itself – self-regulating and wondrously complex, intricate and sacred.  It is unfathomable, well-organized and astoundingly beautiful at both the micro and the macro levels.

Nature operates more on a rhythm than a calendar.  Her processes of change are interrelated and subtle.  How do two trees growing side by side interact?  They obviously intertwine their roots, and often give space to each other’s branches and accommodate one another.  Until, at some point perhaps one has an advantage and outgrows the other, one grows and one withers.  It’s a chance of fate, of birth and species.  A Douglas fir will eventually overshadow an oak, transforming the forest from hardwoods to softwoods, from deciduous to coniferous.

The Sufis says that the leaves of a tree as the pages of the Bible.  I have taken  time to meditate with trees, and with their leaves.  These otherworldly beings begin their lives as a seed, and absorb, transmute and alchemize themselves into trees, using sunlight, water, air and food.  Somehow they know to do this, it happens, and to intimately witness that miracle is a true spiritual awakening.

We share this planet with so many other kinds of beings.  The sheer variety is more than my human brain can possibly assimilate.  Like a hummingbird, I witness the activities in my garden by casting my awareness around from flower, to leaf, to shaft of sunlight to critter movement to stillness.  Tonight I shared a moment with a raccoon, yesterday a small spider and before that a family of quail who live in the blackberry thicket right off the driveway. I know that the animals and many of the beings that live on this land with me for the past 20 years watch me, know my habits and accommodate themselves to that.  At one time there were three crows who watched as I fed the outside cat (she won’t come in even though she’s welcome) and patiently waited until the cat finished eating to empty the dish.  These days a fox does that job…

After a time spent in nature as my mind returns to its smaller, more human concerns it has become much easier to cast aside those pesky self-limiting and self-judging thoughts. A new perspective has been gained that is more open – more kind, more accepting.  To find myself being a part of the natural world is thrilling, and at the same time since it is actually the natural state, it also feels, well, natural.  Simultaneously relaxed and alert.  Refreshed and reinvigorated.  Renewed and Restored.

One of the purposes of meditation for me is to slow down enough to be able to perceive the subtle activities of the natural world.  To watch the chrysalis open, to catch a closeup view of a butterfly.  Have you ever looked closely at a butterfly’s face?  They are heartbreakingly adorable.  They are little fairy creatures, some of them have polka dotted bodies, other have little multicolored striped antennae… Dragonflies have great big smiles – Bumblebees are all different, some tiny and mostly black, others plump and more yellow.  Why?  This I cannot answer!

What else is to be learned from this holy book?  Patience, allowing, trusting – as the natural world’s processes are so well organized and effective, then is it possible that we, too are so well organized?  That we have an innate program that will choose our place, will allow us to be created into what we really are?  The best healers I know guide the body to listen to its own innate wisdom, for the blueprint for health is already contained within each of us.  That includes the blueprint for physical, emotional and spiritual health.  It all comes back to learning how to listen, deeply, honestly, truly listen.

 

 

a morning meditation

To receive the most from this meditation, I recommend counting to four while breathing in, holding for four counts and breathing out for 8 counts;

Breathing in, I fill my body with light
Breathing out, I give thanks for this divine moment

Breathing in I forgive myself
Breathing out I forgive everyone else

Breathing in I love myself
Breathing out I love everyone else

Breathing in I rest in awareness
Breathing out I rest my mind

Breathing in I feel light and free
Breathing out I release all that is holding me back

Breathing in I fill my lungs with light
Breathing out I forgive everyone who has harmed me

Breathing in I open to the divine light of love
Breathing out I forgive everyone I have harmed

Breathing in I recognize the Divine in all beings
Breathing out I send healing love to all

Mitakuye Oyasin
All My Relations

 

Honesty and forgiveness

I’ve been pondering the effect of dishonesty lately as a potential cause of unkind and even violent behavior.  Is it possible that when we do not speak truthfully that the ramifications are broader than we thought possible?  Besides the immediate results or by-products of telling a lie, or speaking untruthfully (same, same) what kind of ripple effect does that have on our unconscious mind?  What kinds of behaviors are triggered by this cognitive dissonance?  And how, after engaging in dishonest behavior can we set things right in our inner being?

It seems to be that awareness is the first and biggest step towards healing any of our painful personal issues.  It takes willingness and courage to face ourselves.  And yet, once acknowledged the benefits of self-reflection are great, and the saying “no pain, no gain” is true for inner work as much as for physical workouts.  When we first see the ways we don’t live up to our own highest wishes for ourselves it can be painful and cause us to feel ashamed .  And yet, the choice to hide from our own wounded and misaligned parts (also called the shadow) will inevitably cause more pain, and is not a long term solution, no matter how much our mind can trick us into thinking it is a good choice.  Addictions stem partly from the inability to face our shadow, and I would include the collective shadow as well.  Many of our so-called “coping mechanisms” arise from the fear of looking in the virtual mirror of our actions and thoughts.

Courage, dear friends, since the only way out is through. As with most fears, this fear of being inadequate, once faced, loses all its strength.  Instead of sapping our life force, truth increases it and we can align with our personal power.  To me, the meaning of personal power is this:  the ability to live from the authentic calling of our own being.  Being swayed to change so that we can fit in or keep another person happy are ways that we lose power, we disconnect from our being’s most genuine knowing.  Some would say (and I agree) that we disconnect from our soul.  This is not a place of power, but is a place of weakness.

Take heart, for courage is always available to us when we live in awareness.  The more carefully we listen to our “soul” the more we can step directly into a life of courage and integrity.  There are many ways to learn this – don’t take my word for it, this is verifiable by each one of us.  How does it feel to tell the truth?  How does it feel to tell a lie?  From that information, choose your path….Choose Love!

What are the best practices to engage deeply with our own psyche?  I have used what is called “insight meditation” as a tool for inner exploration.  It is simple in concept but takes commitment to reap the full rewards of this practice.  First, sit in a comfortable upright position – spine aligned, shoulders back and down, and close your eyes and begin to breathe deeply.  Once you’ve settled into this breath and feel comfortable and centered, then bring up the question that is calling for an answer.  Hold this question in your mind, if it slips away, gently bring it back to the forefront.  Using this technique I have experienced an effect like descending a rope into the inner chambers of my mind.  Down down down, into the places of unconsciousness lies the answer to the question, waiting silently to be discovered.  When it is reached, an epiphany can occur.

Be sure to come up out of this state with gentleness and self-kindness.  This is an important discovery that has just been made.  It calls for more reflection and contemplation in order to derive the most benefit.  It will be life-changing, of that I am certain.  It is well worth any time spent to unlock the secrets of your own soul.

Bless the journey!

Living in the Light of Love

These are beautiful words – but what exactly do they mean?  What is “the light” and how do we live “in the light”?  Good question!  Oftentimes we can understand a concept by first looking at its opposite.  In this case, it’s darkness.  Darkness is associated with evil, with underground, with hate…it is the yang to the yin of light.  What happens when we shed light in the darkness?  It is easier to see the road, the path, the way.  It is easier to understand the effects of our actions.  It is less scary and more friendly.

Light, then is the opposite of dark.  It is love, kindness, warmth, daytime and clear seeing.  Love is spiritual light.  It illuminates the darkness by showing us the path to walk.  How do we love?  Most of the ancient religions have codified a system that gives us this answer.  Yes, it seems obvious to many that most religions today have lost their way (in the dark?) but their teachings are truthful.  Buddhism has a clear system of guidelines – the 8 fold path which includes right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right samadhi.  That pretty much covers it all.  The 8 limbs of Yoga include the same concepts – non-harming, and more.  These guidelines do leave many actions open to interpretation, but from a clear perspective give us all the information we need to live in the light of love.

How can we use our positive intentions to be more loving beings? How can love guide our words and actions – all day every day.  What is the touchstone for love?  Our heart, which carries the wisdom of the ages can guide the way once we learn how to listen.  This is one of the important results of meditation.  By sitting quietly and centering our mind we can more easily hear our heart’s wisdom.  Through mindful breath (called pranayama in yoga) we learn to silence the mind’s chatter, or to at least turn down the volume on its opinions and reactions.  In this way we can sort through our thoughts to find the ones that will guide us to our desired outcomes.

One teacher reminds us to ask this question:  is it kind? if not, perhaps it is not the correct path…facing our own inner demons and releasing part of our personality that have been instrumental in creating problems for us is a big step, but one well worth taking.  Slowing down our response time is helpful, taking deep breaths at a time of stress, calming our “fight or flight” pattern will guarantee a better outcome in most situations.  Reacting from a place of fear generates adrenaline.  Adrenaline is useful in times of true attack, we can find almost superhuman power in our bodies at such times but at other times, this response can cause more harm than good.  Mindfulness is the key word here, learning to distinguish real from imagined threats to our safety and well being is a big step into the “light”.

A considered response is creative, is purposeful and can lead us to a desired outcome.  A reactive response is the opposite.  How do we become responsible people?  The answers are always available to us and the key is in quieting our mind enough to be able to hear its wisdom.  From here we can truly live “in the light of love”.  The reference to “inner light” is all about tapping into the truth within.  A chaotic mind will cause a chaotic life, if it is allowed to run our lives.  We can live like three year olds (tantrum, anyone?) and yes there are some wonderful aspects of childhood that we want to preserve, but true adulthood has more capacity for responsibility and presence.  Who’s running the show, our inner three year old or our seasoned adult.  Making conscious choices feels good, to ourselves and others.